Drivers across America are feeling the pinch at the pump with gas prices hitting record highs. Not only is it becoming increasingly costly for the average consumer to make their daily rounds, imagine the astronomical effects for commercial drivers, who make their living behind the wheel.
Long-haul semi truckers and other commercial fleets are being hit hard by the rising costs of fuel, growing the need for fleet managers to look for ways to increase efficiencies to offset costs.
With the U.S. average cost of diesel at over $5 per gallon, and gasoline at just over $4 according to AAA tracking, the need has never been greater for commercial fleets to improve fuel efficiency across the board.
Impact of rising fuel prices on commercial fleets
As if things haven’t already been hard enough, given supply chain issues and the global pandemic, commercial fleets are now met with another disastrous blow as they struggle to survive current prices for fuel. A few fleet types in particular are struggling to maintain.
Independent owner operators and small commercial fleets are hit especially hard, scrambling to make ends meet as small business owners. As the average owner operator drives 100,000 miles per year, just imagine how much that equates in fuel costs.
With fuel already the largest expense of any trucker, rising costs only exacerbate the problem. For small businesses of any fleet type, margins are typically slim, making it harder to ride out cost increases of any kind.
Long-haul semi truckers
Another group at the top of the list in terms of most hard hit is long-haul truckers, spending higher proportions of time on the road. After all, the more miles logged, the greater the total fuel expense.
All in all, many fleet managers are asking themselves how to increase freightliner fuel efficiency. With that in mind, this guide will focus on how to increase fuel mileage in a semi truck and other commercial vehicles.
Frequently asked questions
How fuel efficient are semi trucks?
Let’s face it: Semi trucks are absolute gas guzzlers no matter how you shake it. Typically weighing in at 80,000 pounds when full, fuel economy suffers. On average, semi trucks get around 6.5 miles per gallon – even less when going uphill. Their only relief is on downhill grades.
How much does it cost to fill up a semi truck?
A typical semi truck fuel tank holds around 120 to 150 gallons of fuel, and many have two tanks. At current diesel prices, many truckers are paying upwards of $1,000 just to fill up at the pump.
How much does idling a semi truck cost?
Idling any heavy-duty truck burns about 0.8 gallons of fuel per hour. At current diesel prices, of over $5 per gallon, that equates to over $40 in a 10-hour rest period. With the average trucker idling 1,800 hours a year, that's $7,200 spent sitting still.
How drivers can improve fuel efficiency
Although there may not be any quick fix fuel saving devices for semi trucks, there are other simple ways for drivers to improve fuel efficiency without a lot of effort. These are especially helpful to improve semi truck fuel efficiency during long stretches on the highway:
- Reduce unnecessary idling. Turn the engine off when not in use or in between stops. Reduce idling as much as possible to reduce unnecessary waste.
- Avoid revving the engine. Proceed to the next gear slowly, rather than abruptly. Smooth transitions are key to keep from burning excess fuel.
- Maintain adequate following distance. This will help reduce braking and acceleration needed after braking.
- Use air conditioning sparingly. Try to use air conditioning as little as possible given weather conditions.
- Reduce overall speed. The faster you go the more fuel you burn. Each trip may take you longer, but you’ll save on fuel.
- Accelerate slowly. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say. Avoid hard accelerations, which burn more fuel.
- Maintain consistent speed. Slowly climb to a comfortable speed (within the speed limit, of course) and stay there, whether using cruise control or manually. Let the truck's momentum carry you up hills.
- Anticipate stops. If driving off the freeway, try to anticipate traffic signals to avoid coming to a complete stop. Roll slowly in anticipation of a green light.
- Keep tires in optimal condition. Tires are a huge culprit in dragging down miles per gallon. Tire tread, width, and pressure all influence good fuel economy. Check your tires as part of a daily routine.
- Optimize loads. Reduce loads to the bare minimum. Remove anything unneeded or extra that may increase overall weight. Even an extra 50 pounds can make a difference.
- Reduce load frequency. Cut down on trips. Visit a vendor once a week instead of twice if doable. These small adjustments in saved trips can have a huge impact.
- Maintain your engine. Keep your engine running smoothly with regular preventative maintenance. An engine that is well oiled and kept in prime condition will give you better fuel economy.
How fleet managers can improve fuel efficiency
With just a little bit of effort, drivers can make small changes with big impact to reduce fuel consumption. Fleet managers can also influence fuel efficiencies, even if not directly behind the wheel.
With a few new processes and tools at their disposal, fleet managers have the power to make big strides when it comes to fleet fuel efficiency, all from the comfort of their offices. Below we will outline the ways in which fleet management software in combination with smart fleet dash cams can help improve fleet fuel efficiency for the better.
Monitor inefficient drivers
One of the fastest ways to burn fuel is aggressive driving. Not only is it unsafe for both drivers and other vehicles on the road, but it is terrible for engines.
Metrics such as acceleration, cornering, braking, amount of time speeding, speed violations, daily route times, and miles driven can be captured via both GPS and engine control module (ECM) data. This data can then be used to identify driver behaviors that can be corrected through coaching workflows to improve vehicle performance and, in turn, fuel consumption.
Monitor inefficient vehicles
ECM data gained through a fleet tracking solution can also be used for more invaluable insights into vehicles themselves and identifying vehicle inefficiencies.
Metrics such as fuel consumption, odometer reading, idling time, fuel performance, engine hours, RPM, throttle data, and more can shed light on overall vehicle health and maintenance needs as well as opportunities for improvements.
Using this data, fleet managers can identify vehicles with poor fuel economy performance, signaling, for example, the need for maintenance. A healthy engine is an efficient engine. Staying on top of vehicle maintenance can go a long way to optimize engine health.
Addressing any maintenance needs early on through a preventative maintenance program can also save time and the expense of larger repairs down the road.